Come for the shoes. Leave with an open mind.
Any designer or manufacturer who sincerely cares about people and the planet should consider making their products closer to their customers.
ARCH-USA’s Chris Burns wrote an article about a small boutique shoe factory in Los Angeles called COMUNITYmade. He had a pair of hand crafted custom kicks made and nudged me to check them out.
But due to the covid era, I really held back going “outside.” With the mask mandate lifted in Los Angeles, I made sure that boutique shoe factory was my first stop.
Prior to the visit I had been in communication with COMUNITYmade’s President, Shannon Scott about a design challenge project I am working on. She was gracious and inviting to the idea of educating the youth about sustainable footwear options. It’s part of the COMUNITYmade ethos. To produce, educate and sustain.
Square Footage Applied
Spending time at 584 Mateo Street you will find that in a small space, big things can happen. When you first walk into the space, the retail counter is wrapped with a wall of footwear produced and designed by the COMUNITYmade team. There are several options to choose from slides that you can laser etch your own design on to ¾ height sneakers. Most of the styles expose some handy details like blanket stitching on the back seams, exposed seams and embroidery as well as laser etching.
There is no shortage of information from Noah who is there to help not only guide you into which style is right for you but also serves as one of the makers in the background, making the whole experience personal, educational and makes the customer feel like they are getting VIP treatment and attention. Who wouldn’t want to have their shoes presented to them by one of the makers? This way, you get to know who made your shoes! Sort of like how shoe stores used to be back in the day.
Pulling back the rope curtain entering further is where all the magic happens. The backroom opens up to the studio floor where LA based, The Goods is stationed, and customized customer projects are being worked on. At any time CEO Sean Scott can be found cycling through on his bike path beyond the Strobel machine and an inventory of leathers and some kind of paper leather (which can only be used in non-flex areas) can be found.
Speaking of machines, they have only a handful – yet very viable – including a laser printer and 3D printer for outsole molds. Partnering with sustainable producers like Blumaka (who uses 85% recycled shoe foam scraps) for outsoles and an endless customization options. It can be cliché but really there is something for anyone’s aesthetic. From simple slides to multiple layering styles, whatever your design goal is – this factory can get it done.
It Takes A Village
With so much effort put into community building it is easy to forget that this factory can produce up to 25 pairs per day – given the right snack power.
COMUNITYmade is home to a collective of technical designers, artists and makers. Shannon and her husband Sean have created a space that is open to all who want to improve, encourage and promote domestic manufacturing. Both are veterans of the footwear industry having worked with the likes Nike, ASICS, Vans and TOMS . They are community builders in which all are invited to share the space, its equipment, its charm and its resources.
Some of the resources include exposure to their charitable connections with some of Los Angeles based outreach organizations including Street Poets, Youth Mentoring and The People Concern. All programs that directly affect the health, wellbeing of the arts, youth development and the fight to end homelessness. These are the organizations that exist to empower the people that help give Los Angeles its pulse. Plus, if you purchase shoes from their retail shop, you can give 20% to any charitable organization of your choice.
The village-like community that is presented at COMUNITYmade goes beyond the machines and sneakers. The space also serves as a venue for anyone looking for a creative space to host events.
One such event was a collaboration with Lineapelle of Milan. The Lineapelle event was held on March 28, 2022 during brunch to discuss their sustainable material initiative, A NEW POINT OF MATERIALS. The event showcased innovative and responsible materials selected by LINEAPELLE team and exposed Los Angeles creatives with a slew of new sustainable material suppliers.
The event made me think about the progressive future of domestic manufacturing and its ability to capture the eye from high production countries like Italy. The future of footwear manufacturing in the United States will no doubt be focused on Los Angeles.
And so I asked Sean Scott why should creatives (as well as existing brands) bring their production of footwear to Los Angeles?
Here is what he had to say:
Any designer or manufacturer who sincerely cares about people and the planet should consider making their products closer to their customers. Costs are substandard in overseas manufacturing because wages, safety, and sustainability are substandard in these settings.
Beyond the human and environmental impact. Producing locally is superior to the overseas mass production model by virtually every metric, from a business perspective too: barrier of entry, speed to market, ease of use, quality of product, etc. Only factory cost is better overseas. But the difference in cost to the end consumer is narrowing almost weekly. The pandemic exposed long existing weaknesses and risks inherent in an overseas supply chain. Disruptions in transportation are well-documented and shipping costs are expected to be 30x more expensive than pre-pandemic.
Brands, technology, and suppliers alike are making moves into the local production model. It’s clearly the future of manufacturing.Sean Scott CEO, COMUNITYmade
It will behoove the future creatives, designers and future factory owners to think about domestic production as the fashion industry and the world are seeking new opportunities to stay afloat. With the ability to create hand crafted slow-churned footwear using premium, innovative and sustainable materials as COMUNITYmade, the future of the fashion industry is in your backyard, Literally.
Want to hear more from Shannon & Sean?
Listen below to their podcast episode with Shoe In Show (FDRA)